Book – Black Lives Matter & Music: Protest, Intervention, Reflection

Title: Black Lives Matter & Music: Protest, Intervention, Reflection
Editors: Fernando Orejuela and Stephanie Shonekan
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Series: Activist Encounters in Folklore and Ethnomusicology
Format: Book (hardcover, paperback, digital)
Release date: August 10, 2018


On July 13, 2013, two days after George Zimmerman was found not guilty for shooting and killing unarmed African American teen Trayvon Martin, a grassroots movement aimed to reaffirm the value of black lives in the United States was born. Black Lives Matter— the chapter based, multi-faceted movement— humbly began as a hashtag on Twitter upon the announcement of George Zimmerman’s acquittal. The hashtag and phrase, black lives matter, have been used in social media, protests, and rallies to protest against the violence and systemic racism black bodies are globally subjected to.

In the past couple of years, there have been a number of books written on Black Lives Matter— Christopher Lebron’s The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s From #blacklivesmatter to Black Liberation, and Black Lives Matter cofounder Patrisse Cullors’ When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. While these texts are certainly important in providing an analysis of the movement, no book has explored the intersection of Black Lives Matter and music—until now.

Black Lives Matter & Music: Protest, Intervention, and Reflection is a collection of five essays from alumni of the Indiana University Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology (as well as the Archives of African American Music and Culture). In the foreword, Portia K. Maultsby writes the following about the function and purpose of the text: “Black Lives Matter and Music foregrounds black music as a window into black life, thereby revealing the conditions that gave rise to and underscored the need for the Black Lives Matter movement.” Moreover, the essays “range from personal experience to ethnographic studies to putting ethnomusicology to use and illustrating the role of music in acts of resistance that brought national attention to the Black Lives Matter movement.”

The first chapter, “Black Mizzou: Music and Stories One Year Later” by Stephanie Shonekan, details the activism of black students at the University of Missouri. In November 2015, the students began to actively voice their grievances against the racist environment of the campus—an action that led to the ousting of the University president and chancellor. Shonekan focuses on how undergraduate and graduate students utilized music to create a sense of solidarity and understanding on the campus.

In “Black Matters: Black Folk Studies and Black Campus Life,” Fernando Orejuela “addresses the passively hostile, teaching environment” of the university and his “practice of teaching about racial inequality through hip hop musical communities while simultaneously bringing to light the experiences of teaching in the midst of racial unrest in the United States.” In chapter three, Langston Collin Wilkins presents the case study, “Black Folklife Matters: SLABs and the Social Importance of Contemporary African American Folklife.” Focusing on Houston’s first SLAB Parade in Family Festival, which features local hip hop artists and customized cars (aka SLABs), he explains how the parade “create[s] a public space for an unapologetic affirmation and celebration of blackness”—an objective that is certainly in line with the Black Lives Matter movement. He also convincingly argues that the inclusion of black folklife in public programming is a necessity.

Alison Martin addresses “narratives told within local, black musical spaces, and considers how these stories engage with the ideas of solidarity and resistance that are central to the Black Lives Matter movement” in her chapter “Black Music Matters: Affirmation and Resilience in African American Musical Spaces in Washington, DC.” Here, Martin pulls from her own experience as a black woman, as well as her research that centers around go-go music and gentrification in DC.

In the final chapter, “Black Detroit: Sonic Distortion Fuels Social Distortion,” Denise Dalphond looks at the ways in which the rebellious and DIY nature of Detroit’s techno and house music scene provides a sonic and physical framework for social and cultural change. Dalphond writes that the isolated and insolated nature of the music scene allows for “artistic and economic independence,” an isolated independence that “is essential to Black Lives Matter and any action toward ending white supremacy.”

In the conclusion, Shonekan offers this wish for her readers: “We all hope to inspire our readers to think about how black struggle, liberation, and identity have evolved in the US and around the world, and how folklore and music offer us a ready way of observing, analyzing, and learning.”

Reviewed by Kennedi Johnson